Only a horse died
Before the white flag fluttered
Over Fort Sumter

Eighteen sixty-one
April came in stormy then
Four-thirty, the twelfth

Pre-dawn it shattered
The uneasy peace they knew
When long darkness came

The blue and the gray
Made a hundred shades of red
The colors of war

There is no hatred
Deeper than between brothers
So close the distance

Wicked is the edge
That divides the human heart
From that which it loves

Loud days upon them
When war whispers turned to howls
And all were made deaf

War is failure’s price
When words cannot sway the will
Currency of blood

Enfilade sweeps far
Merciless arcs through the line
Cleaving open souls

A nation born free
Yet to embrace enslavement
Had to be reborn

Vessels can be weak
Their ship was unseaworthy
They were seamen still

Defeat’s patina
Of melancholic brooding
Is theirs to cherish

Valor on both sides
Is honored in human hearts
That grasp the horror

Though rebellion shown
Courage worthy of respect
Their deaths not in vain

Defeat assured us
Of a strong United States
Safe from division

Boys’ hands hold aloft
The fragile rag ennobled
Death will make them men

The flag was sodden
Wet with blood and morning dew
Cloth so creased with pain

Only yesterday
It whipped the air unaware
Of its frailty

When the stripes and bars
And stars and colors flying
Unfurl no more

Bullets and disease
Twin conspirators of death
War’s dark handmaidens

Dry and hard as bone
Hardtack, spit-wet to choke down
Their staple of life

A sizzle in fat
“Worm-castles” when vermin-filled
Such is nourishment

Shoeless, cold, in rags
These no gallant uniforms
Not so handsome now

No jaunty marches
But leaden boredom and dread
And hungry half-sleep

Hear the roar, the roar
Rebel yell, Yankee cannon
The death of silence

Battlefield names
Once towns innocent of blood
Tinged now with horror

Fredericksburg’s ghosts moan
Cry out across the freeways
Faint amid new noise

They can still be heard
The decibels of anguish
Humming in the din

Tattered, shattered air
Shrapnel whipping through bowed trees
A bruised sky, wounded

Through murderous paths
And biting pointed acres
Courage propelled them

On and on they came
It is sad to kill such men
Brutal tasks of war

So many limbs fell
Some with leaves and some without
Mingled on the ground

Mangled on the ground
July’s high beauty besmirched
With bird song and sobs

Sherman hated war
“It is all Hell, boys” he said
Man-made Hell on Earth

“Make it bad enough
To make it over sooner”
An orgy of death

Bodies know the rage
Of disease which is war too
Fever took his son

To anguish Sherman
So hated and beloved
In his pained madness

What Lee said was true
“We shall grow too fond of it”
The glory of war

The best it brings out
“Good that it be terrible”
Hate’s lustful passion

In the wilderness
The madness and the horror
Where is glory then?

It lies in knowing
There are things worth fighting for
Worthy of valor

Two days at Shiloh
Earthly days to rival Hell
Amid peach blossoms

Bereft of mercy
Lay carpets of the dying
‘Til tears turned to rain

Shenandoah screamed
From Sheridan’s ruthless torch
Embers drenched in blood

“Dead on the field”
Such words to echo in air
Heart-breaking Autumn

The bloodiest day
Antietam’s harvest of souls
And shamed victory

Cold Harbor, cold heart
Chilled by time’s swift, blunt slaughter
Breath-taking carnage

Guns with no bullets
Caused Chamberlain’s fearful cry
For the bayonet

Faced the wicked slope
Of hot, roaring raging air
And go in to it

To be in Hell then
Could be no worse than that day
On Little Round Top

Oh, doomed Sultana
Victory could not save you
From water and flame

And proud arrogance
So the waves took you under
To perish unsung

Six – hundred thousand
Did close their eyes forever
The future not theirs

Not to see the start
Of a new United States
Without slavery

And without these men
Who slept in their early graves
So much treasure gone

They killed each other
With ecstasies of hatred
Tornadoes of rage

After the battles
They would have to meet again
Now as countrymen

And look past raw wounds
Past anger, shame and fury
This took valor too

Through their pain and death
They erased geography
And made us one land

Now to make foemen
Be as brothers once again
Tragedy must bind

Chastened by fire
A nation made more sacred
By its suffering

Our national wound
Young bones moulder in old graves
We still bear the scars

Pioneer nation
Our infant experiment
Freedom’s light on Earth

Our America
Withstood her great upheaval
From her knees she rose

A solemn purchase
The price was blood and sorrow
To weld a nation

And make it unite
Through common pain and healing
Unbowed, free and one

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